The Reason We Ask, Seek, and Knock

(Post from a youversion reading plan by Adam Stadtmiller)

God answers prayer, but asking prayer is not primarily about answers. Asking prayer, like all other forms of prayer, is about relationship. If you make asking prayer about answers, you’re moving into dangerous territory.

When prayer is primarily about answers, our relationship with God becomes results focused. When God says no or works outside of our time schedule, we desperately question why and are tempted to feel inadequate or unloved by God. Be assured that as you grow in the area of asking prayer, the Devil will seek to shift the focus of your prayers from relationship to results.

Christ was well aware of the relational purpose of asking prayer. In the seventh chapter of Matthew when Jesus dared His followers to ask for things – big things – like “elephants” in prayers. He immediately transferred the focus from the asking to the fatherly or paternal relationship that surrounds each request we make.

Jesus was saying that whenever you ask in prayer you open up the familial lines of communication and put yourself in a position to experience relationship with a loving and compassionate Father.

When God answers your prayers in dramatic fashion, you will grow in the knowledge of His power and care for you. When God works on His schedule instead of yours, you will come to know more about His sustaining power. And when God says no and your dreams die or perhaps you lose someone close to you, you will come to know the God of all comfort who weeps with you. If you want to know God as Father, begin to assault the throne of heaven in asking prayer.

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Winning at the Game of Life

(This is the ninth and final post in a series on wisdom from baseball; and how about it posting just a few hours before GAME 7. In this article, Mark Stanifer continues to mine his playing experience for insights into how to better play the game of life.)

One hundred and sixty-two regular season games. Three wins for the Division Series. Four more wins for the League championship. All for the chance to win four more games and be called the best in baseball. Only the Dodgers and the Astros have a chance to reach this final goal for the season.

Over the course of our article series, baseball has provided some excellent material for how to excel at the game of life. Of course, it is not a perfect analogy, but it is a good one.

Clear Goals Are Important

Last season, the Astros finished with a record barely over 0.500. The Dodgers lost in the League Championship to the eventual World Series winners. Both teams came into this season with something to prove, and they have. Although only one team will finish first, all the goal setting, planning, and hard work have paid off for both teams.

It’s likely that the other twenty-eight teams now watching the games on TV set a goal to win the World Series as well. Setting a goal does not guarantee it will happen. There are many factors which go into achieving a goal, some of which are outside of your control. But without a clear vision of what you are working for, how will you know when you achieve it? If the Astros had set their goal as simply “do better than last year,” it is likely they would have significantly underperformed. Winning the World Series is a big stretch goal, but it is specific and clear.

Team Effort

Each team has stand out players, but without the whole team, winning championships doesn’t happen. During this article series, we covered the importance of playing your role, doing the little things, and being the ideal team player. Suffice it to say, it takes a team to win the World Series.

It takes a team effort to win at the game of life too. Anyone who has achieved a level of success, broadly defined, has had help along the way. I don’t mean to diminish the individual effort. Instead, I want to emphasize the role that others — parents, mentors, coaches, teachers, partners, friends, spouses — play in their success. Moreover, truly successful people help others to be successful as well. MVP’s and all-stars garner a lot of attention, but I believe being praised as a great team player is a more desirable accolade.

Staying Focused

Spring training starts in March. The World Series sometimes finishes in November. That’s almost nine months of baseball, and over 200 games all told. How do teams stay focused for that long? There are multiple factors here, but I want to highlight one in particular. The players make a choice to stay focused on what they are pursuing — a championship.

Choices like this require sacrifice. I don’t mean to imply that a single minded pursuit of goals is always admirable. Rather, I’m highlighting a principle Greg McKeown writes about in Essentialism, which is this: “The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions.” Said differently, staying focused on your goals requires consistently choosing activities that lead to accomplishing your goals, and saying no to things that don’t. It also reinforces the importance of being clear about goals. Regrets arise from saying no to things that should have been a yes.

Not Just One Winner

The big flaw in using a sports analogy for life lessons is that in sports there is only one champion. Not so in life. A winner does not have to come at the expense of a loser. Winning, again broadly defined, is achievable for many. That said, let me be clear — I am not advocating for “participation trophies.” That diminishes the achievements and actions of those who have truly excelled. Rather, I’m advocating for a perspective that allows for many winners in the game of life, as each plays the game in the way they were created play. Some might call this an abundance mindset.

If I were to summarize this series in just a few sentences, it would be this: Be clear on where you are going and do what is yours to do to get there. Recognize the importance of being on a team and do the little things to help each other win. Realize that much of this game is mental and overcoming mistakes or failure will be critical. If you do all these things, it won’t guarantee victory, but it will increase your chances of living up to your full potential, and of winning big in life.

Winning the Mental Game First

(This is the third in a series on wisdom from baseball. In this article, Mark Stanifer continues to mine his playing experience for insights into how to better play the game of life.)

As a boy growing up, baseball was my game of choice. I enjoyed the game and was naturally gifted with some physical talent. But I was not very good at playing the mental side of the game. It wasn’t until long after I hung up my cleats that I realized just how important the mental game is to success, and how weak I really was.

During my last year with the local American Legion team we hosted the State Championship tournament. We had played our way into the championship game, in front of the home crowd, and against our in-state rival. The winner would move on to the National Regionals. And the entire game came down to the bottom of the last inning. We were trailing by one, with two outs, and the tying run on third base. And I was on-deck and thinking, “I don’t want to bat!”

Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success does it? As it turns out, I never got the chance to be the hero of that game, but given my mental state — doubt, fear, lack of confidence — odds are that I would have made the third out myself.

With time and lots of life experience, I’ve come to realize just how much of the game of life is really mental. I have read numerous books this year on the power of our thoughts to shape our actions. What we tell ourselves, or absorb from others, is a significant contributor to our state of mind. Dr. Caroline Leaf, in Switch On Your Brain, says this, ‘What you are thinking … becomes a physical reality in your brain and body, which affects your optimal mental and physical health.”

I don’t often hear baseball used as a metaphor for life. But there is some rich insight to draw from this sport, especially in how we play the mental game.

Don’t focus on the negative

Baseball is not a game of perfection, especially when it comes to batting. Whether it is an errant throw, a missed opportunity, or a strikeout (more on this in an upcoming article), there are many opportunities to focus on what didn’t go right. And while reflecting on mistakes for lessons learned can be very valuable, dwelling there can be debilitating. The better approach is to own it, learn from it, and then move on.

Be in the moment

There is a lot of down time in baseball. An average MLB game lasts around 3hrs, but with less than 20 minutes of actual playing time. The rest is transition and preparation. Sometimes life can feel that way too — a lot of time invested in the “game of life” but in the end only a small amount really counts. It is important to be looking for those few precious moments and be ready when they come. Blocking out distractions, being prepared for when the ball comes to you, and being fully present, are good ways to help you stay in the moment

Be clear on the truth

It is hard for a professional player to ignore the critics. It is equally tough to ignore the critics in our own lives — both self and others. The best way I know how to do this is to continually remind yourself of what is true. The starting point for me is always “I am valuable simply because I am a child of God.” So much of our perceived worth is derived from accomplishments or accumulations, but these are not really our identity. Knowing who you are won’t eliminate the critics, but it will help lessen the potency of what they say.

Maybe you’re a huge fan of baseball or maybe the game isn’t your thing. Regardless, we are all involved in playing the mental game of life. And the winners of that game have figured out the importance of these insights. While I’m not fully there yet — maybe that’s not even possible — I am definitely a lot stronger now than that 18 year old back in the on-deck circle. And I like my chances this time around a whole lot more.